Lighting Effects with Coiled Wire Fabric

Stunning results can be achieved by combining natural or electric lighting with coiled wire fabric
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Sponsored by Cascade Architectural
By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Electric Lighting Design

All of the traits that make coiled wire fabric ideally suited for use with natural light also apply to the use of electric lighting. Since all buildings are currently designed to use electric lighting for exterior and interior locations, coiled wire fabric can be considered for use in virtually any building type. Some of the potential ways for this to be accomplished are discussed as follows.

Exterior Facade Lighting

It is common to provide exterior lights that shine onto building facades to provide some ambient light to the surrounding area, highlight the building in the dark, or create an artistic affect. Coiled wire fabric has been combined with different lighting systems to achieve all of these results in ways that are enticing, durable, and delightful.

A facade that incorporates coiled wire fabric as panels or a covering will express the characteristics of that fabric during daylight hours. However, at night, the same coiled wire fabric can be illuminated to create a totally different appearance. The use of LED lights in particular allow for different colors, patterns, and senses of texture. When these LED lights are connected to a simple electronic control system, different lighting colors can cycle through preprogrammed or random patterns to create a truly visually dynamic facade. The end result is a facade that is unique with very different characteristics during the day compared to nighttime. In some cases, this can lead to truly artistic creations that become focal points or features of a building or complex.

Photos: ©CCD, Inc. Design: Cliff Garten Studio

Exterior facades can be created with coiled wire fabric that offers an appealing design by day and a dynamic lighting option at night.

Interior Surface Lighting

Building interiors use electrical lighting at all times of the day for a variety of purposes. Indeed, lighting design is a field unto itself that blends providing the proper quantity of light with the best quality of lighting to create functional, appealing spaces. In recent decades, this design specialty has focused on energy efficiency too so that the best light outputs are achieved for the least required amount of energy used. In commercial buildings in particular, this often means that high-performance fluorescent or LED lighting is used coupled with appropriate lighting controls. As more options have become available in terms of choosing light color and intensity, the art of creating interior lighting schemes has become more expansive and innovative. Consistent with this trend, coiled wire fabric has become an integral part of creative, well-designed lighting schemes for interior spaces.

When coiled wire fabric is installed below or adjacent to an artificial light source, it helps illuminate rooms with color and light. The interior lighting effect is thus determined by both the lighting source and the finish chosen for the fabric. Bright white lighting sources can be amplified by using reflective fabric or muted by using colored wire fabric more consistent with a particular design scheme. Hence the light can be diffused throughout a space while simultaneously reducing the intensity of the light. Essentially, interior lighting is usually considered from two vantage points: ceiling or wall mountings.

  • Ceilings: When using coiled wire fabric as part of a ceiling solution, the appearance of the ceiling no longer needs to be only flat, and the layout of the lighting no longer needs to be only linear. Instead, coiled wire fabric installed on the ceiling can be undulating and formed, while carefully located LED or other lighting is an attractive alternative to rows of ordinary tube lighting fixtures.

Photos: © CCD, Inc. Architect: Innovativo Design

All manner of electrical lighting can be combined with coiled wire fabric for interior conditions that are appealing, dynamic, and artistic.

  • Wall treatments: Using coiled wire fabric for space separation purposes means that the same three-dimensional surface options (not just flat) are possible as a wall treatment. Curved, flat, free-form, or undulating dividers made of coiled wire fabric provide an excellent backdrop for lighting to be shone upon. This light can come from above at the ceiling level, from below at the floor level, or anywhere in between using lightweight, low-voltage LED lights. The net effect is a custom surface with the interplay between the wire fabric and the lighting providing the medium to create dramatic or sublime interior spaces.

Taking this approach a step further, it is worth noting that when different colored lights with moving heads meet on a coiled wire fabric surface, motion and color mixing take over. This effect is simply unattainable with solid, opaque materials, thus creating a unique and varied opportunity. Add in layers of coiled wire fabric installed in a series, and the design possibilities become multiplied. By installing light sources from several angles, one color passes through the first panel and interacts with the next, creating new tones along the way. This can be very popular for interior spaces, such as corridors, entrances, and other areas that can benefit from being transformed from otherwise mundane spaces to vibrant and dynamic ones.

Coiled Wire as a Canvas

By now, it is clear that light and coiled wire fabric can be used together in a variety of ways to enhance and illuminate the exterior and interior of buildings using many different design strategies. However, there is still one more opportunity to use light and coiled wire fabric together that is both functional and attractive in many public settings. Simply put, the coiled wire fabric can be used as a screen or a “canvas” upon which lighted images can be made to shine on it. The density of the weave of the coiled wire fabric as well as its color will influence the final effect, but in many ways, the end result is a surface where imagery, signage, wayfinding, or artwork can be projected onto it.

Where might this be appropriate to consider? There are a variety of building types where this technique has been used. Sports venues need to communicate with large numbers of people and find projected signage to be an effective method. Music and theater facilities have a similar need for artistic wayfinding and communication. They have a further need to provide backdrops or lit scenes behind or around performers. Combining projected light and coiled wire fabric provides an economical, lightweight, and technologically straightforward means to meet these needs. Many other buildings can benefit from such projected light imagery, whether on exterior facades or interior surfaces, for the same artistic or informational reasons. Sometimes it is particularly useful to enhance an otherwise boring surface and transform it into an expressive one that completely changes the atmosphere of the place where it is located. That can include walkways, parking garage facades, long corridors, or other similar surfaces.

Photos: © CCD, Inc. Architect: Interblock (left)

Light can be projected onto coiled wire fabric to create colorful patterns, signage, or even support musical and theatrical performances as shown here.

In any of these cases, the key is to use appropriate light projectors to shine the selected imagery onto the receiving surface. These can be high-acuity projectors that allow for sharp, distinct imagery or simpler ones that provide more ethereal shapes and colors. In all cases, the projection does not need to be limited to static images. Rather, moving images and colors can be projected to suit the needs of the installation.

The coiled wire fabric itself also needs to be balanced with the type of imagery being presented. Fabrics with an open weave are best suited for abstract or amorphous projections or to achieve those more ethereal effects. A tight weave is best for a crisper resolution and sharper images if the intent is for greater clarity. Relatedly, the coiled wire fabric can be either flowing or taut to provide more artistic effects or more concise imagery. Not to be overlooked in this case is the color of the metal fabric used. While the projector may provide intense enough color to remain identifiable, the underlying color of the metal will certainly affect the perceived colors. White metal can commonly maintain the crispest and brightest colors, gold metallic color will offer a muted or sepia tone appearance, and darker colors can create effects of floating imagery or mystery. All in all, the fabric and the projected imagery needs to be considered together with trial runs, experimentation, and different iterations looked at.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in October 2020